New Delhi: When Vishnu Tiwari, 43, was imprisoned in 2001, in what the Allahabad High Court has now deemed a false rape case, he had never seen a mobile phone in his life. Those were the days of the basic Nokia models with even incoming calls charged to the minute.
His village of Silawan, Tiwari added, was a sleepy hamlet in Uttar Pradesh’s Lalitpur district.
Twenty years on, the 43-year-old has returned to a cacophony of phones and bustling markets, not just in Silawan but across Lalitpur district.
Over the past few days — since his release from Agra Central Jail on 3 March — Tiwari has been coming to terms with a “changed world”.
“I had only heard of phones back then; there were just STD booths. I had never seen mobiles, only heard that they exist,” he said. “Everything has changed now, my village, my district, it feels like it’s a whole new world. The markets and others have changed so much.”
As if making sense of the world two decades later isn’t tough enough, Tiwari said he has little means to survive in it, and has lost most of his family members.
The 43-year-old’s father, Rameshwar Tiwari, died in 2013, and within the year, his mother Ram Shakhi also passed away. Two of his brothers also died from cardiac arrests in this period.
He attended none of the funerals.
“What is worse for a son than not being able to see his dying parents’ faces one last time?” he asked. “What is more unfortunate than not being able to perform or witness the last rites of family members?
“I am illiterate. I kept in touch with my family through letters whenever someone who read and wrote one for me, but on the days when I needed it the most, when my parents died, I couldn’t even make a phone call home,” he said, sobbing on the phone.
The family’s economic condition also deteriorated over the years.
“We owned six to seven buffaloes back in 2000, now we have none. Our ancestral lands also had to be sold off to pay lawyers,” he told ThePrint.
“How will I start my life now at 43 — with no education, no skill set and hardly any family around,” he added. “I cannot even marry, my only brother is now a monk.”
A false rape case
Tiwari was 23 when in September 2000 he was first arrested based on an FIR filed by the woman, her husband and father-in-law.
He was accused of sexually assaulting, raping and beating her when she was five months pregnant.
He was subsequently booked for rape and atrocities under the SC/ST Act. Tiwari secured bail but was arrested again in 2001. He spent two years as an undertrial before a Lalitpur trial court sentenced him to life imprisonment in 2003.
Tiwari had challenged his conviction by a trial court in 2005 but his petition was deemed defective, in that all of the required documents weren’t in place. It remained that way for 16 years.
The Allahabad High Court noted this in its judgment acquitting him.
“Most unfortunate, aspect of this litigation is that the appeal was preferred through jail,” the order said. “The matter remained as a defective matter for a period of 16 years and, therefore, we normally do not mention defective appeal numbers but we have mentioned the same.”
The high court also noted that the medical evidence did not show any sign of forcible intercourse. “We find one more fact that despite allegation that rape is committed as alleged by the prosecutrix, there are no injuries on the private part of the lady, who is a fully grown up lady and who was pregnant and is said to have been thrashed,” the court said. “Further, there was a motive on the part of complainant that there was land dispute between the parties.
“In our finding, the medical evidence goes to show that the doctor did not find any sperm,” the court added. “The doctor categorically opined that no signs of forcible sexual intercourse were found.
“In view of the facts and evidence on record, we are convinced that the accused has been wrongly convicted, hence, the judgment and order impugned is reversed and the accused is acquitted,” the court order further stated.
On his part, Tiwari said the case was the result of dispute over land and animals. “It was a fight over our lands and animals. I have never spoken to the woman, just knew her as a bahu. They just wanted money through the harijan act,” he said. “I never imagined that due to their greed, I would have to stay in jail for 20 years.”
Days in prison
Recounting his days in prison, Tiwari said he first marked the days on the walls of his cell but gave up as it got him depressed.
“I would work hard everyday so that the struggle to sleep decreases,” he said. “In the first couple of years, I would often make lines and then cross them to mark days on the walls of the cell, but stopped after a while. It began demotivating me.”
The 43-year-old also said that many times, he felt that he should die in jail rather than languish in there for so long. “Mata Rani would come in my dreams sometimes and ask me not to lose hope but on some days I would feel choked inside,” he said.
“I tried screaming and crying but it never got better inside the prison. Your soul dies everyday painfully. In these 20 years, I have wanted to die so many times.
“I am 43 now, almost half my life has passed by and I have nothing to look forward to,” he added.
Taking suo motu cognisance of Tiwari’s 20 years of incarceration, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to the chief secretary and director general of police, Uttar Pradesh, asking for a detailed report of the matter, observing that this seems to be a non-application of Section 433 CrPc.
According to Section 433, the government can commute sentences. The NHRC has also sought details of the action against public servants responsible in the case and steps taken for rehabilitation of Tiwari.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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